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James Elkington on Robin Williamson – Myrrh

You might not immediately recognize James Elkington’s name but chances are you’ve heard his playing on songs by Jeff Tweedy, Wooden Wand, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn, Michael Chapman, Joan Shelley, Nathan Salsburg or Tortoise. He’s a kind of sidmean’s sideman, a songwriter’s secret weapon who adds texture and depth to any song he graces. He’s steeped in the traditions of Basho, Fahey and Ayers with a touch that rivals his compatriot Steve Gunn in accessibility and nuance. As usual Hidden Gems explores the albums that inspire reverence in artists, the ones that they feel haven’t received due diligence. Elkington goes deep on a solo outing from the Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson, and makes a case for a psych-folk classic lost to time.

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RSTB Best of 2017 (so far)

Is it already six months into 2017? Could that be possible? Though it seems there are a hundred other things to distract these days from musical output, it’s been a banner year in terms of albums meeting high expectations and some new surprises sneaking their way into rotation. Somehow, despite plenty of talent bubbling through other genres, it’s just felt right to embrace the blistering squall of psych, noise and punk these past few months. So, as usual, here are the albums that have spent most time on the turntable here. Presented in alphabetical order, its a pretty good roundup with six more months left on the clock.

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Design Inspiration: Jakob Skøtt

For the third installment of the site’s Design Inspiration series, I’m focusing on Jakob Skøtt, who wears triple hats at the excellent Danish label, El Paraiso Records. Skøtt is co-owner, member of the band Causa Sui and chief designer of the label’s aesthetic. That aesthetic struck me immediately as being one of the most cohesive and attractive since Sacred Bones took up arms 10 years ago. Like SB, the label hearkens back to the idea of library sleeves or serialized jazz, tying their catalog together through crisp typography and the faded hues of Skøtt’s paintings. There are very few labels that I stumble upon and immediately want to buy wholesale on sleeve art alone but El Paraiso makes the case for buying blind and assuming a quality product. Below are Jakob’s picks for his five favorite album covers.

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Matthew Melton on John Denver – Farewell Andromeda

Hidden Gems has become an opportunity to look into the inspirations that drive the artists I love around here, but it’s also revealed several layers to those I’d thought I had pegged. Case in point, for all his catalog leanings and past permutations I’d have figured that Matthew Melton would turn in an uncharted power pop gem, or given his latest direction in Dream Machine, perhaps a proto-metal nugget from beyond the grave. However, Melton went deep into the past to unearth some of his first musical inspirations with a look at John Denver’s under-celebrated 1973 album Farewell Andromeda. I asked Matthew how this album came into his life and how it’s affected his work.

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RSTB Presents: 120 Seconds

Introducing a new feature that will stand alongside the site today. In addition to regular coverage here, I’m starting up a video series that will focus on new music via two minute videos. I’ll spare you the boredom of watching me talk awkwardly into a camera trying not to look as if I’m reading in one direction and speaking in another. Instead the series will indulge a ’90s nostalgia for cut ‘n paste video sequencing doused in a particular bent of pop culture fixation and rounded up into two minute bites. Basically this exists because I watched too much TV as a child. The first episode is below and it features Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, Peacers, School Damage and Bleached.

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James Jackson Toth on Japan – Tin Drum

The latest installment of Hidden Gems comes from a longtime RSTB favorite. I think it’s fair to say that without Wooden Wand, Raven wouldn’t have shaped up the way it did in those early years. When I happened on a great set by James, billed to open for Jack Rose in a cramped bar in Greenpoint back in 2005, Harem of the Sundrum and the Witness Figg quickly became a fixture on the turntable and a desire to spread some of the WW gospel was born. Below Toth shares a record that’s made an impact in his own life and how it crept in and took hold.

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Ben Chasny on Keiji Haino, Mikami Kan and Yoshizawa Motoharu

Chalkin’ up another great installment of Hidden Gems, RSTB’s series in which one of my favorite artists picks out an album that hasn’t gotten proper due in the scheme of things and shines a bit of light on it. I’ve found that the picks can often illuminate not only a deserving overlooked album, but also give insight as to where the chooser’s own sound developed from, and this entry from Ben Chasny is a prime example. Ben’s picked a PSF classic, the very seldom sung Live In The First Year Of The Heisei (Volume’s I and II), by collaborative trio Keiji Haino, Mikami Kan and Yoshizawa Motoharu. Technically its two albums, but who’s to get picky around here. Ben gives his take on what makes this such a slept on piece of culture and how it’s played an important role in his own music.

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Ripley Johnson on Fabulous Diamonds – Commercial Music

Starting off the new year right with a new edition of Hidden Gems from Ripley Johnson (Moon Duo, Wooden Shjips). Hidden Gems explores albums that haven’t gotten their proper due over the years, as picked by RSTB’s favorite artists. Ripley selected Aussie psych duo Fabulous Diamonds’ third album Commercial Music, which was released by Chapter Music in 2012. Ripley explains why the album is such a slept on treasure and the impact its had on his own music.

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RSTB Best Reissues of 2016

If you’re familiar with Raven Sings the Blues, then you know that reissues and digging through the past play an important role in coverage on the site. Aside from the stellar new releases out this year, several companies stepped up to deliver reissues of essential material that could very well have been lost to time. This is a weird time in the life of a reissue label, a time where major labels are cranking out as much vinyl fodder as possible, with less than a fraction of it being records that couldn’t just be picked up in a $5 bin in decent condition. These are some of the reissues that I thought were deserving of accolades this year.

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RSTB Best of 2016

This year is mercifully drawing to a close, much to the collective relief of pretty much everyone you know. In a year that tested the limits of the world’s collective conciousness, at least there was music to soften the blow. It was truly hard to whittle down the “best” of 2016, keeping in mind that best over here is entirely qualitative. I’ll accept the requisite fines and fees for not including Beyoncé and Bowie in RSTB’s top 5 for the year, but if you need a site like this to tell you that tentpoles like those are good, then we’re in more trouble than I thought. Instead, the following list sums up the best garage, psych, experimental, folk that hit the shelves this year. The records that spent the most time on the Raven turntable presented in alphabetical order below. Fuzz on and keep safe.

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